Bullets Over Broadway The Musical at the Ordway

Bradley Allan Zarr and Jemma Jane in Bullets Over Broadway The Musical. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Bradley Allan Zarr and Jemma Jane in Bullets Over Broadway The Musical. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Woody Allen’s 1994 film Bullet’s Over Broadway, refashioned as Bullets Over Broadway the Musical opened on Tuesday for a one week run at St Paul’s Ordway Center. The film garnered a bucket-full of major award nominations for direction and screenplay. Diane Wiest (as Helen Sinclair) won several supporting actress awards including an Oscar and Golden Globe. With this provenance one expects an intelligent and funny musical production but that is not the case.

The plot, a piece of nostalgia for an old New York that never existed, is set in 1920’s Gotham, back when gangsters murdered people and got laughs; back when women were either stupid whores with Brooklyn accents or innocent girls who longed only for marriage. And it was a time when writers would stop at nothing for a chance at mounting a Broadway play–perhaps that part is still true.

In the musical, David (Michael Williams), the aspiring playwright, is given a chance at a production on the Great White Way if he’ll agree to cast a mobster’s mistress in a supporting role. He accepts the offer and the plot proceeds through mostly formulaic twists in this play-within-a-play format. This story could work, but the production is so overwrought with mugging actors and lines delivered with the tact of a Tommy gun hitting innocent bystanders that one is given little to like. The histrionic diva Helen Sinclair (Emma Stratton) is so over the top that her every third or fourth word is unintelligible.

There are some high points. Hit man Cheech (Jeff Brooks) and his fellow gangsters do a bang-up job of “Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.” They dance the spunk back into this sassy old song. It is smart, fast, and comes on unexpectedly. If only the rest of the show were half this good.Likewise the character Warner (Bradley Allan Zarr) the leading man in the play-within-a-play and Olive, (Jemma Jane), the mobster’s moll, do a sweet duet of “Let’s Misbehave.” It’s good because it’s one of the few things in the show that isn’t overdone.

Ironically, in a play with plagiarism as its theme, the show relies on numbers by old masters such as Cole Porter, Hoagie Carmichael, and Sammy Cahn to name just a few. Mostly the numbers integrate into the show better than one might expect. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the humor in the show. When Olive claws her way back on stage, only half dead from the bullets Cheech has pumped into her and then is finished off with three more shots, we are supposed to think it is funny. Really.

The tension in this slight play revolves around the earnest playwright being torn between his moral and intellectual sensibilities versus his desire to succeed. As a play about the meretricious aspects of Broadway musical production, you can’t see a better example than this non-equity, touring company production of Bullets.

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